EPT13 Prague: Tsoukernik is the King, lands final blow against Carrel to prevail in Prague

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A maiden title for Europe's poker king, Leon Tsoukernik

Thirty-nine players entered the €50,000 Super High Roller tournament at EPT Prague this week, but rarely have 37 of the world's best poker players been relegated so readily to the background.

From the very moment that Leon Tsoukernik sat down alongside Charlie Carrel in this event on Sunday afternoon, those two men, from vastly different backgrounds, have captivated all observers.

Tsoukernik is a flamboyant 43-year-old art dealer turned casino owner who travels across Europe in a helicopter, parking it wherever he finds the biggest cash games. Carrel is a 23-year-old from Britain's Channel Islands, who rotates three or four tie-dye T-shirts as he travels the world to play a game he honed on the internet.

Less than an hour into their acquaintance, they exchanged heated words over a misunderstanding over an alleged angle shoot. (There was no guilty party.) But since then they played almost non-stop against one another, earning each other's respect. Carrel knocked out Tsoukernik on Day 1, and Tsoukernik bought back in, landing in the exact seat he had left. Tsoukernik then paid €600 for a bottle of whisky and they buried the hatchet over the brown stuff.

Carrel ended Day 1 as chip leader. Tsoukernik was ahead at the end of Day 2. Then at around 5:30pm today, all other players had literally, as well as metaphorically, vanished from the tournament. Carrel and Tsoukernik were left alone to go heads up for the title.

This time the elder statesman prevailed, winning the first major title of his career. His €741,100 winner's cheque is barely a drop in his ocean but Tsoukernik was delighted. He had joked in an interview that only he was the true poker professional at the table, having earned more from the game than perhaps anyone else in the continent. As the owner of the largest card room in Europe, which will be home to a PokerStars Festival next year, there was some truth to Tsoukernik's claims.

But Carrel too left happy. He has made the final table of both high buy in events at the EPT Prague festival already, as well as three in Amsterdam last month, and his €535,250 for second is yet another massive win for one of the hottest young talents in the game.

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Charlie Carrel: On a spectacular run

This tournament played out for the most part in the overspill room on the mezzanine level of the Hilton Prague allowing the massive Eureka Poker Tour tournament the run of the main room. The intimate location helped a rare bonhomie develop between the principal players: Tsoukernik and Carrel were not alone in sharing booze and anecdotes alongside the regular turbulence of high-stakes competition.

To the joy of all the watching spectators, now joined by a sizeable portion turning in at home via EPT Live, this atmosphere endured even after play transferred to the television table. Carrel and Tsoukernik started today where they left off yesterday: going at each other hammer and tongs. One picture from yesterday tells the story.

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Charlie Carrel, left, faces off against Leon Tsoukernik

Even before the final was half an hour old, Carrel won round one of their new sparring match. A big bet and even better chit-chat got Tsoukernik to fold a rivered flush (Carrel had fourth pair). But a couple of hours later, Tsoukernik got his own back in spectacular fashion. He made a speculative play with 7♣2♣, made a straight on the river, and won a huge pot from Carrel's two pair after Carrel couldn't manage to find the fold--even after eight minutes in the tank during which he reasoned he probably should give it up.

In between those two high points--and you really should make it your business to find a replay of them because they were awesome--both of the overnight short stacks hit the rail. (You can also review all the blow-by-blow action with us.)

Julian Thomas picked up €152,915 for sixth place when his Q♥J♦ couldn't beat Carrel's K♥9♥, all-in pre-flop. Paul Newey was always going to be up against it after he assumed short-stack duties, and so it proved after 90 minutes of patience. Eventually, his pocket tens lost to Viacheslav Buldygin's eights. Buldygin made a straight.

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Julian Thomas: First man out

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Paul Newey: Out in fifth

Tsoukernik started the day with the chip lead, and it only became more dominant thanks to the massive pot against Carrel. It meant that by the time they were four handed and the blinds had crept up a couple of notches, we had an especially wonky table. Tsoukernik had more than twice as many chips as the other three combined.

Buldygin hit the rail next. The rubber-faced Russian--who wears delight, confusion, exasperation and bafflement more beautifully than perhaps anyone else in the modern game--could only grimace and chuckle when his J♠9♠ slammed into Carrel's J♦J♥. Despite only appearing on the High Roller scene for the first time in Malta, Buldygin has already become a real hit with rail-birds and his bank manager alike. He took another €258,800 for his endeavours here.

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Viacheslav Buldygin: Another High Roller score

Helppi came into this final table needing to finish fourth or better to supplant Patrik Antonius at the top of the Finnish all-time money list. But he was without a major title since 2012 and fancied his chances in this one.

Buldygin's elimination meant he duly secured the cash to send him to No 1 in Finland, but he fell short of the title once again. He lost a big pot to Carrel when his A♦T♥ couldn't beat K♦K♣, and then Tsoukernik polished him off. Helppi's final hand was T♥7♥; Tsoukernik had J♠T♠. That was it for Helppi.

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Another near miss for Helppi

That left the old frenemies to go at it for final bragging rights. The two players who had dominated this tournament almost from start to finish were now left alone to slug it out. Tsoukernik had a two-to-one chip lead heading into heads up, but Carrel will still have fancied his chances.

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Heads up hug between the best of enemies

However, Tsoukernik proved this week that he has a poker brain to match his business nous and that he is a fearless competitor. Carrel did his best to re-build from a heads-up short stack, but Tsoukernik dodged everything that could possibly hurt him. Carrel eventually got his chips in with A♥K♦ and Tsoukernik called with K♠J♠.

The Jack in the window was a cruel way to end things. But that's poker.

"They should respect us when we play, and don't call us fish," Tsoukernik said, striking a blow against the pros for recreational players. I don't think anybody would dare, Leon.

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The world of Czech poker salutes the champion

EPT13 Prague Super High Roller

Dates: December 11-13, 2016
Buy-in: €48,500 + €1500
Entries: 49 (39 unique players; 10 re-entries)
Total prize pool: €2,352,735

POSNAMECOUNTRYPRIZE
1Leon TsoukernikCzech Republic€741,100
2Charlie CarrelUnited Kingdom€535,250
3Juha HelppiFinland€341,150
4Viacheslav BuldyginRussia€258,800
5Paul NeweyUnited Kingdom€200,000
6Julian ThomasGermany€152,915
7Anthony ZinnoUnited States€123,520
Howard Swains
@howardswains in European Poker Tour